Early Christian Writings
by Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth
As a Christian living in the wealthiest country in the world during one of our most prosperous times, I am accustomed to making very few sacrifices. I turn up my nose at coffee if it doesn’t have real cream in it, and I fight like the devil to get the exit-row seat on any flight. A day without coffee or a flight sitting in the middle seat feels like a real depravation.
My aversion to sacrifice may not be unique, but it certainly indicates a gulf between my way of thinking and the presuppositions of the early church, as Ignatius’s letter to the Roman Christians attests.
Ignatius was an early Bishop of Antioch, following just a couple of generations behind the Apostle Peter in that role. He was condemned for his faith, arrested, and sent to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts in the Flavian amphitheater. On the way to Rome he wrote seven epistles that had a strong influence on the early church—none more so than his letter to the Romans.
In this letter, Ignatius begs the Roman Christians not to try to prevent his coming martyrdom. His attitude runs so contrary to my own self-centeredness that it sounds scandalous: “Fire, cross, beast-fighting, hacking and quartering, splintering of bone and mangling of limb, even the pulverizing of my entire body—let every horrid and diabolical torment come upon me, provided only that I can win my way to Jesus Christ!”
These words shock us today. But are they not the same words used by all the men and women who are totally committed to Christ? They are not distant from me because of time or culture; they are distant because of my love of comfort. Modern American Christians need to meditate on Ignatius, to consider whether or not their vast material blessings have become a stumbling block.
by Jeff Baldwin